Epicurious 

Bringing Araxi home

I've said it once, and I'll say it again, because I really believe it's true: if you have a good cookbook you can accomplish just about anything in your own kitchen. Of course, it also helps if you have the right tools, access to the best quality ingredients, some common sense and, of course, a passion for food. But I digress.

As it turns out, Araxi's executive chef, James Walt, seems to subscribe to the same school of thought. In fact, he recently had a hand in creating the longtime local culinary establishment's very first cookbook, which hits stores in early October.

The self-titled tome is, in itself, a piece of art, featuring more than 100 gorgeous photos by culinary photographer John Sherlock of the lush surrounding area and stunning, untouched photos of the dishes.

While Walt has contributed to collective cookbooks before, like Vancouver Cooks and Vancouver Cooks II, this is definitely the most involved he's been with a cookbook project.

"It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be," Walt admitted.

He'd been working with final revisions on PDF, but hadn't actually seen the final, finished product until a few weeks ago.

"I really, really like it. I just think it's a beautiful book - we captured what I wanted to with the area and producers."

The text was written by Jim Tobler but the recipes are almost entirely Walt's creations, with a few long-time Araxi fourites like squash blossoms and foie gras pate, thrown in for good measure.

Tobler visited the restaurant twice, interviewing the long-time staff, and also made a trip up to the Pemberton Valley to see where the restaurant sources the bulk of its ingredients.

"I would gather product while we were there, too, and then bring it back to the restaurant and he'd sit in there with me," Walt said.

Through this process, Tobler was able to paint an incredibly vivid picture of the restaurant and the region that inspires the chef.

"He seems to really understand what we're doing," Walt said. "...It's not like we're regional to be trendy or that we're doing things just to be 'in.' Since I came up here in '97, this is the way we've been. We're not trying to be something different - we're just doing what makes sense."

A self-described "cookbook junkie" with almost 700 culinary texts lining his home bookshelves, Walt opted to break the Araxi book into two distinct sections to correspond with the seasons: summer and winter. He also included a special harvest menu section in the centre to showcase the Sea to Sky's regional bounty.

"The criteria I set up for myself was that every recipe in the book has been on the menu for the last five years," he said. Walt didn't want to start dreaming up new recipes for a book - he wanted everything to be tried, tested and true Araxi favourites.

The hardest part was developing accurate, written instructions that any home chef could easily figure out and follow.

"I'm a very visual person and I find I learn more if you were to show me something," he said.

Clearly, Walt's skill and experience in the kitchen is at the very highest level. But that doesn't mean your average at-home chef isn't perfectly capable of replicating his efforts.

"I set criteria where I didn't have off-the-wall ingredients and stuff, because a lot of what we cook is regional, so I think as long as you're familiar in a kitchen at home and you enjoy the kitchen... any home cook, I think, can really get into it."

There are an assortment of simple dishes that only require four ingredients, mixed in with professional dishes that require a bit more patience to master. But, according to Walt, repetition is always key when it comes to cooking.

"It's the same for me - if I make something for the first time, it takes longer."

The book received unexpected glowing reviews from Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal after Walt sent them advance copies.

"What a book to have! Inspiring and creative - a must-have ingredient in any kitchen," Ramsay said.

"This book is full of the attention to detail, freshness and passion that makes eating at Araxi so special," Blumenthal added.

They've already been selling copies at the restaurant, but the book will be available in bookstores starting Oct. 3.

 

 

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